The US government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans stipulate that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise, every week. That’s at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. It doesn’t seem like a big-time commitment—until you try to cram yet another activity into your hectic day.
Who has the time or the energy to make it to the gym or fitness center (assuming it’s open again amid the COVID-19 pandemic)? Who has an extra half-hour a day, 5 days a week, to take the time to work out (not to mention warming-up beforehand and showering and changing afterward)?
Don’t worry. You don’t need to take a lot of time to exercise. And you don’t need a gym or fitness equipment—or even a large room—to exercise. You can get a quick workout with these exercises that can be done anywhere at any time.
Plank exercises do more for your abdominal muscles than sit-ups or crunches, and you can do them wherever there’s enough floor space. “Even an entire hour of crunches won't match the body benefits of a 10-minute plank workout,” wrote fitness expert Nora Tobin on Shape.com.
Planks work all the muscles of the core—not only the abdominals, but also the obliques, hips, and back. “Plus, plank exercises burn more calories than sit-ups or crunches because they recruit muscles in the legs, arms, and rear, too,” Tobin added.
If you’ve never done a plank, get down on the floor like you’re doing a push-up, but bear your weight on your forearms instead of your hands, keeping your toes on the floor. Make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders and your eyes are facing the floor. Hold your body in a straight line, like a plank of wood, without arching your back or letting your hips sag. Tighten your ab muscles and breathe normally. Maintain the pose for 10 seconds to 1 minute, then relax to the floor.
Lunges work all the muscle groups in your lower body—hips, gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. They also engage the core muscles of the midsection. Lunges don’t require any equipment, although you can use a chair or wall for stability, or add hand weights to increase resistance.
For a standing lunge, start with one foot forward and one foot back, feet pointing forward, roughly 2-3 feet apart. You should be up on your toes on your back foot. Holding your upper body straight, bend at the knees and slowly lower yourself—with your weight evenly distributed on both legs—until your back knee is a few inches above the floor and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Your front knee shouldn’t extend beyond your front toes. Your back leg, although bent, should remain in a straight line, without rotating your knee or foot. Slowly raise yourself back up. Do several reps on the same leg before switching to the other one.
Once you’ve mastered the standing lunge, try a forward lunge, side lunge, or sliding lunge.
No gym? No problem! All you need is a sturdy chair for this exercise.
The chair dip works the triceps muscles of the upper arms and engages your core muscles, too.
Sit on the edge of the chair seat. Extend your legs with your feet hip-width apart and the heels of your feet on the floor. Grab the sides of the seat with your hands, lift yourself up just a little and slide forward just enough that your butt clears the edge of the seat. Slowly lower your body until your elbows are bent between 45 and 90 degrees. Slowly push yourself back up to chair level, but without locking your elbows. Also, avoid hunching your shoulders or leaning forward at any point. Repeat for 10 reps.
The wall sit (or wall squat) isolates the quad muscles in your legs but also works the glutes and calves. It’s great for getting in shape for skiing, running, and other activities that require leg strength and endurance. It’s simple to do, and all you need is a wall (a smooth wall is best).
Start with your back against the wall. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, about 2 feet away from the wall. Holding your abs tight (but breathing normally), slowly slide your back down the wall and bend your knees until your thighs are at a 90-degree angle, parallel to the floor. (Don’t lower yourself any further than that.) Your knees should be directly above your ankles, not in front of them. Keeping your back flat against the wall and your abs tight, hold in place for 20 seconds to 1 minute. Then push your weight into your heels and slowly side your back up the wall to the starting position.
Plyo jacks (ie, plyometric jumping jacks) are jumping jacks with an added burst of high-impact movement. When you do the jump, you extend the legs apart as usual, but then go down into a deep squat. It’s a great whole-body workout that engages your glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings, and core—and gets your heart pumping.
Start with your feet together and arms at your sides. Hop in the air, extend your legs apart, and raise your arms over your head. Land with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, then lower down into a squat with your arms extended out to the side. As you rise back up, raise your arms over your head and jump into the starting position with your feet together and arms back down at your sides.
Another full-body exercise, burpees can give you a fast-paced, high-intensity cardio workout. But where did the strange name come from? The burpee was invented by (and named for) Royal Burpee, an exercise physiologist in New York City who came up with it in the 1930s as a measure of physical fitness.
Besides increasing cardio fitness, burpees improve muscular endurance and coordination, build upper body strength, and burn more calories in less time than traditional cardio.
A burpee is an unconventional exercise made up of three conventional exercises: a plank, a push-up, and a jump squat. Start with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides. Bend over and put the palms of your hands on the floor in front of your feet. Thrust your feet behind you and get into a “high-plank” position, keeping your abs tight and your back straight.
Then do a push-up that ends with raising your head to look in front of you. Bring your feet forward with a frog-hop so they land flat, outside and slightly behind your hands. Jump directly upward, reaching your hands above your head. Land with your knees slightly bent and feet hip-width apart. Repeat.
If doing a burpee is too difficult or too hard on your body, try a half-burpee (no push-up required).